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A Chat with Filmmaker Magali Barbé

If you’ve seen the indie sci-fi short film STRANGE BEASTS, then you know the charms of the work of Magali Barbé. A writer/director and shot creator based in London, Barbé has been involved with well-known projects like  AVATAR and WONDER WOMAN, as well as doing her own animations and short films that pull at the heartstrings. Barbé recently chatted with us about her sci-fi influences, film experiences, and upcoming plans.

RECURSOR: Tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in making films?

MAGALI BARBÉ: As a kid, I just wanted to learn drawing, so I went to art school. I’ve studied academic drawing, painting, illustration, graphic design, art direction and a bit of animation. I love storytelling as well as visual art, and a career in animation/film just seemed a great way to combine both.

Who and what has influenced you artistically? What are your favorite sci-fi films and artists?

I think my work is inflenced by everything I see around me — what I read in books, magazines, and online… what I see around me or on a screen, the people I meet… For movies, my tastes are varied, but I admit to particularily enjoying mind-twisting stories, such as MOON (Duncan Jones) or ADAPTATION (Charlie Kauffman, Spike Jonze) or OLDBOY (Park Chan-wook) and of course, BLACK MIRROR (Charlie Brooker).

In terms of genre, I love sci-fi of course, but not only! GATTACA and BRAZIL are among my favorite movies, not necessarily because it’s sci-fi, but because I think they’re great movies! If I really have to pick a few names, some of my favorite filmmakers are Sergio Leone, Wong Kar-wai, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry (his first features and music videos), Jeff Nichols, Tarantino, Miyazaki… I love authors.

You’ve done animation for films like PRINCE OF PERSIA, AVATAR and CLASH OF THE TITANS. What was it like to work on big Hollywood-style films like these?

In the industry, you follow a director’s vision and/or a client’s brief. Also today, a lot of the work is based on rotoscoping or motion capture or both. To be honest, it generally leaves very little room for decision-making and creativity. It can be frustrating but still, animation is a great skill to have: It teaches a lot about timing, staging, production and post-production process, working with a team, and so on. And some projects are technically challenging, so if you can find a bit of creativity in there, it can be fun.

What led you to make your own short film, STRANGE BEASTS? Where did the story come from?

Magali Barbe on the set of STRANGE BEASTS via Recursor.TV

On the set of STRANGE BEASTS

At some point, I was obsessed with augmented reality. My first idea was to make a hoax video. I thought, let’s create this pretend advertising for this pretend AR game, and hopefully drive people crazy because the game will look so cool! Then I decided to turn it into a narrative, which I thought would be much stronger. I wanted to express my feeling about AR. I find it fascinating and sort of scary at the same time. I’ve worked around the main character. I wanted to share a vision of loneliness. The idea of the twist came quite naturally.

There’s some wonderful music as background for STRANGE BEASTS as well. Who did you work with to create the musical score, and what was the process like?

Thanks! The music and the sound design were created by Pierre Vedovatto. I was introduced by a friend. Pierre is a young, very talented and very professional sound artist. He’s based in Paris, so we met once and then worked remotely. I had a proper lack of vocabulary in that field, but we managed. And I’ve learned a lot! It will definitely help for the next project.

Tell us about the process of making the visual effects for STRANGE BEASTS. Was it similar to work you’ve done before, or was it different?

It was very different from the industry. In a big VFX house, everything takes ages. The company is gigantic, and there’s so much hierarchy. When you need something — sometimes a simple request — you send an email, and if you’re lucky, you might get an answer in the next couple of weeks. On STRANGE BEASTS, it was a relatively small crew (7 people, including myself). Everyone could speak to everyone, fast and easy. It helped.

How did you handle the complexities of making the visual effects look real and beautiful, while also managing the budget aspect of a short independent film?

VFX from STRANGE BEASTS by Magali Barbe on Recursor.TV

VFX from STRANGE BEASTS

STRANGE BEASTS is a self-funded project, and I couldn’t afford to pay people, So I’m forever grateful to all of them! It’s really unpleasant to ask people — friends or not — to work unpaid, but it was my only option and it’s a non-commercial project. I spent a bit of my own money to rent material, pay food, coffee and transport for everyone; that was the least I could do.

I remember when people started to join the project, knowing there was no budget, it felt amazing. I was really into it already, but a crew of talented people, working for the sake of the project only — It certainly grew my motivation and confidence toward the film. It really did.

What projects are you working on right now? And what do you see yourself doing in the next 3-5 years?

A lot has happened with the release of the short. It got me representation, and I have met quite a few producers and studios interested in a feature version of STRANGE BEASTS. I am currently writing my first feature film. I also wrote another short I’m planning to make this year; I have started pre-production already. And I have a treatment for another feature, which I will write whenever I find the time.

Ideally in the next 3-5 years, if it’s allowed to dream a bit, I will have directed my first feature and be starting on the second one. And between those two, I’ll take a holiday. You know, time off… to relax. I’ve heard people do that sometimes. (LOL)

Magali Barbé is a London-based writer, director, VFX animator and previs artist who has worked on both Hollywood blockbusters, as well as smaller commercial projects. To learn more about her, visit her website

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